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The Essence of a GameKeeper

Mr. Fox Haas

Bobby Cole | Originally published in GameKeepers: Farming for Wildlife Magazine

Mr. Fox dove hunting

Where did the idea for food plots begin? It’s easy to imagine someone hunting a field planted with cool season “cattle forages” and racking up deer (pun intended) back in the day. But when did someone start clearing out and planting plots in the deep woods specifically to hunt? Can it be traced back to one person or group? Probably not. It also doesn’t matter, but it helps tell a story about a very interesting man, a man who has had an influence on wildlife in his home area of northeast Mississippi and a profound impact on the entire hunting industry. This white-haired gentleman could never have imagined what his efforts would produce and may not understand today just what an impact he has had. He is a “gamekeeper” in the truest sense and around his neck of the woods, he has set the standard for respecting wildlife and giving back more than you take. 

When you meet Mr. Fox Haas you will instantly realize that faith and family are priorities for him. Following close behind is a love for the land, wildlife and the sport of hunting. This remarkably humble man of few words cares deeply about making sure the wildlife resources are there for future generations. 

It’s been almost 50 years since he first taught his son the ways of a woodsman and hunter. He had no idea just how closely he was being watched and never dreamed his actions would end up influencing an entire generation of hunters. His singular concern was teaching his son to appreciate time spent in the woods, and most importantly, to value the land and its wildlife. Those days not only created a best friend for life, but what originated as a concern for one, ended up influencing literally millions. Taking everything he learned from his father to heart, Mr. Fox’s son, Toxey Haas, started Mossy Oak Brand Camo on a solid foundation of placing importance on the land and its wildlife. 
 
Toxey, Fox and Grandkids

Today, the outdoors mega-brand can be found on literally thousands of hunting products. It’s hard to think of another outdoor brand that has had a more positive impact on the hunting industry. However, I want to go back to the 1950s and see what was going on back then. 

World War II had recently ended and the screw worm had caused many problems for whitetail deer. In the 50s there weren’t many deer left in my home state of Alabama or the South for that matter. Records show there were remnant populations left in isolated areas. Soon, the screw worm was eradicated and in the years following, deer were trapped in the hardwood swamps north of Mobile, Alabama, and relocated to areas around the state. This was hard work, trapping deer. It was slow and they could only capture a few at a time. The area they trapped is now called the Fred T. Stimpson Wildlife Sanctuary and is located near Jackson, Alabama. This area supplied the breeding stock for much of what is now Alabama’s deer herd, although some northern counties imported deer in from Michigan and Wisconsin also. They released just a handful of deer at a time in key spots where the landowners agreed to protect them. Alabama’s deer herd was slowly rebuilt. 

Mr. Fox grew up in Mobile and was fortunate enough to be close friends with the Stimpson family, who were and still are large landowners dedicated to wildlife preservation. Mr. Fox has been deer and turkey hunting for over 70 years. Let that sink in. Imagine what he has seen and the changes that have occurred in 70 hunting seasons. It’s hard to imagine that most of the state had no deer, while this huge river swamp was home to a population large enough to not only hunt, but to trap and restock the state. As a young man, he had access to this unique property and it helped to form his love for wildlife and the traditions of hunting. 

During many talks with Mr. Fox, I have heard him explain that back in the 50s and 60s his club, Choctaw Bluff, began to plant plots specifically for wildlife. Back in the day, there weren’t many options for planting. Winter wheat and rye grass were the most available products and deer would no doubt graze these. Somewhere along the way, a coffee can of clover was added to help improve the plots. Through trial and error these men experimented with seed ratios, companion crops and even fertilizers. Their goal was to attract deer in the fall during hunting seasons. There may have been others in the country that had determined they could plant crops specifically for wildlife around this time, but there is no doubt in my mind these men were among the first. Perhaps they were the very first. It’s interesting to note that these first plots weren’t necessarily designed to hunt over, but rather offer forage for the deer herd. This was back in a time when it was also frowned upon to shoot does, and bucks were not being managed for age class. 

These men were also planting chufas in the sandy ridges of the area. They saw the benefit they provided to the turkeys and started an annual regime of making sure their turkeys had access to chufa plots to scratch and feed. I’m really not trying to establish who planted the first food plot, but rather illuminate and celebrate what Mr. Fox has been a part of and the changes he has seen in wildlife management. It must be astonishing to him. 

Mr. Fox with buck

I also marvel at the generosity of the Stimpson family who allowed the state to trap their deer. If the state called you and wanted to trap half of your turkeys, would you let them? I’ll let you answer that, but I would bet the state would get turned down quite a bit. Food plots have changed through the years. Very few biologists that I can think of would recommend planting rye grass today for deer. The desire to understand and offer quality nutrition to a deer herd is becoming the norm. Deer have different requirements than cows, and the mindset of simply planting cattle forages is slowly changing. Once someone see’s the actual benefits of quality forages that have been fertilized and managed correctly, they will never go back. Wildlife friendly brassicas, modern clovers, improved radishes, winter peas, triticale and other plantings now make fall plots more attractive and nutritious than ever before. 

Check out the food plot offerings by Mossy Oak BioLogic at www.plantbiologic.com

Mr. Fox at Nativ NurseriesSpring has also become an increasingly popular planting time as hunters are thinking of their deer herd’s needs during the off season now. Being a gamekeeper and taking care of your property and its wildlife is becoming a sport in its own right. It’s giving people a reason to be on their property 12 months a year. Ask anyone who is serious about their property and they will tell you, growing deer and improving the habitat is as much fun as hunting season to them. These people are enjoying establishing mineral sites, summer plantings for deer and other wildlife, planting trees and just generally improving their property. 

Today people “farm for wildlife.” We call it being a “gamekeeper.” There are soil tests done and then amended when necessary to make sure the crops realize their full potential. Modern gamekeepers spray herbicides, apply pre-emergents and chase weeds with a vengeance. They build utilization cages to monitor browse pressure and erect fences to keep deer out of plots until they are ready to be browsed. Shed hunters employ trained dogs to look for the “bones” on their farms and state-of-the-art cameras capture digital photos of nearly every deer and each deserving buck is named. It’s quite different than in the 1950s and 60s. Back then, it was a site to see a deer or maybe even a track, but today deer have adapted to live in and around cities. They are almost everywhere. It’s a fantastic conservation success story, and one that hunters should take pride in telling. 

Years ago, after moving to West Point, Mississippi, Mr. Fox was also on the other end of a trapping project. In 1972, he gathered up a group of large land owners willing to protect turkeys and the state released some birds in an area that had none. For five tough years he nurtured and protected these birds as the flock exploded and expanded. He is entirely responsible for the stocking of wild turkeys in Clay County, Mississippi. 
 
As he concluded his 71st turkey season, I wondered how many others have experienced so many consecutive spring hunts? Not many. There just weren’t many huntable turkey populations back in the day, but that’s another story.

Mossy Oak was born from one man sharing his love of hunting and wildlife with his son Toxey, who treasures the hunts with his father and his own sons Daniel and Neill. Spring is a special time for them. I can promise you, Mr. Fox doesn’t care if he and his friends were the first to plant a food plot. He does care that his love of wildlife and the traditions of hunting are preserved for future generations to enjoy. The Mossy Oak brand has grown to mean so much to hunting and wildlife management. Today, Mr. Fox Haas continues to have a profound influence in the hunting and conservation world. The roots he planted, the roots of the Mossy Oak brand, are deeply entrenched in the sport of hunting. It’s a brand that’s proud of where it came from, where it’s going and more than anything, it’s family. Mr. Fox Haas stands proudly watching over the fruits of his teachings, and every day we recognize where it all came from. Thank you Mr. Fox.

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